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Southern Cross Stargazer for January 2016

Quadrantid Meteors will be visible this month.
Quadrantid Meteors will be visible this month. ABC News

As the New Year begins, Comet Catalina nudges bright Arcturus (red giant star) high in the east. Cruising at 2 degrees per day, Catalina will pass by the double stars in the Big Dipper’s handle mid-month. Visible in optical equipment.

Four planets arch across the sky at dawn. Golden Jupiter glows in south-southwest, below the Lion’s tail. In the south, ruddy Mars (rises 1:30 a.m.) lies to the left of Spica in Virgo. Brilliant Venus (rises 4:30 a.m.) shines 6 degrees above Antares (red supergiant) known as the heart in the Scorpion’s torso in the southeast.

Silver Saturn (rises 5:15 a.m.) 3 degrees below Venus. The Big Dipper hangs in the north. Its bowl always faces Polaris, North Star. The tip of the Little Dipper’s handle is Polaris. Leo, Lion, crawls westward. Corvus, Crow, leads Spica, in Virgo, across the south, followed by the stars of Libra. Huge Scorpius crawls higher in the southeast. The Gemini Twins slide into the northwest. Capella steers the Charioteer lower in the northwest. Bright Vega twinkles in the northeast ahead of the Summer Triangle.

Mercury lingers near the southwestern horizon until nightfall. Dim blue Neptune, in Aquarius, slides lower in the west. Blue-green Uranus, in Pisces, Fish, floats high in the southwest. Brilliant winter constellations reach their highest point in the evening sky.

Bright Capella guides Auriga, Charioteer, into the north. The Royal Family reigns in the north: King Cepheus, Queen Cassiopeia (W-shape constellation), daughter Andromeda with our nearest galaxy and Perseus, Hero. The delicate Seven Sisters (Pleiades cluster) shimmer overhead and lead Taurus, Bull, to the Zenith.

Ruddy Aldebaran (red bull’s eye) winks from the V-shape Hyades cluster (bull’s face). Orion, Hunter, strides higher in the east in pursuit of the Bull. The Great Orion Nebula, glows in his sword, a gas cloud 173 trillion miles in diameter that produces new stars. Spectacular view in telescopes.

Procyon, Little Dog, in the east, follows Orion. Brilliant blue Sirius a young nearby star, sparkles in Orion’s Big Dog in the southeast. The Gemini Twins, Castor and Pollux, climb higher in the northeast followed by the Beehive cluster in Cancer, Crab. The Northern Cross stands on the northwestern horizon. Aries, Ram chases Pegasus (Winged Horse) onto the western horizon.

Leo, Lion, peers over the eastern horizon. The bowl of the Big Dipper appears in the northeast. Bright Jupiter rises in the east before midnight. A few early Quadrantid Meteors might be visible radiating from the northeast.

Some ancient cultures based their holidays on celestial appearances. Ancient Egyptians marked their summer New Year when brilliant Sirius appeared in the southeast predawn, which coincided with the annual flooding of the Nile River. The Druids marked their New Year in the autumn when the Pleiades rise in the east by mid-evening, end of their Harvest, which eventually transformed into Halloween.

Evening

Jan. 2: Earth is nearest the sun: 91.4 million miles.

Jan. 3: Early Quadrantid Meteors might be visible by midnight.

Jan. 9: New Moon 8:31 p.m.

Jan. 13: Young crescent moon lies to the left of Neptune. Binoculars reveal dark Earthshine on the lunar surface.

Jan. 14: Mercury slips onto the southwestern horizon.

Jan. 16: First Quarter Moon 6:26 p.m. The moon floats to the left of Uranus.

Jan. 19: The moon drifts 0.5 degree above Aldebaran in the Hyades.

Jan. 23: Frost Moon is full at 8:46 p.m. The bright moon rises in the east at dusk below the Beehive cluster.

Jan. 31: Last Quarter Moon 10:28 p.m.

Morning

Jan. 1: Comet Catalina next to bright Arcturus.

Jan. 2: Last Quarter Moon 12:30 a.m. in Virgo.

Jan. 3: By 6 a.m. the waning crescent moon rises in the southeast near Mars.

Jan. 4: The Quadrantid Meteor Shower might be visible from 1 a.m. to dawn. They will be most active by 3 a.m., radiating from an area left of Arcturus. Locally 50 meteors per hour might be visible. The rate would improve in a darker sky in the Florida Keys or Everglades National Park.

Jan. 6-7: At dawn, Saturn rises closer to Venus. The waning moon floats near them. Antares sparkles in Scorpius below.

Jan. 8-9: Saturn and Venus dance together in the southeast. Great views in binoculars.

Jan. 12: Comet Catalina will be closest to Earth by 67 million miles. The sun is about 93 million miles from Earth.

Jan. 14-15: The comet will cruise near the double stars in the handle of the Big Dipper in the north.

Jan. 22: At dawn, Mercury appears at the top of the Sagittarian Teapot on the southeastern horizon.

Jan. 25: Before sunrise, brilliant Venus descends to 10 degrees above Mercury in the southeast.

Barb Yager: 305-661-1375, barbyager@aol.com, scas.org

Special events

Jan. 7-9: The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables hosts the 31st Everglades Coalition Conference. evergladescoalition.org/conference.html

Jan. 15: Southern Cross Astronomical Society presents a free public program at 8 p.m. at FIU Physics Lecture Hall CP-145. 305-661-1375

Jan. 27: SCAS presents a Star Party at 7 p.m. at Villa Vizcaya after Garden Tours. vizcaya.org

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